If you haven’t taken a trip to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey, Hampshire, they are certainly worth a visit. As well as the spectacular 180 acres of gardens, there is a cafe, gift shop, plant centre and a lovely exhibition space featuring a changing range of top quality art and crafts for sale.
Exhibition of top quality crafts
In March, the Wessex Guild of Craftsmen will be taking over the exhibition space by the entrance (free entry to the exhibition). A total of 14 members will be showing and selling a diverse range of contemporary crafts over 10 days, from 20th to 29th March. I’ll be showing and selling some of my stained glass artworks, alongside the impressive creations of other members of the Wessex Guild during the second half of the exhibition (25th-29th March).
So visitors to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens this Spring will not only experience the wonders of beautifully-maintained plants and trees, but they can also see and buy the work of other masters of their craft, in the Wessex Guild of Craftsmen’s display.
As well as stained glass, there will be the opportunity to buy turned wood, jewellery, embroidered pictures, ceramics, tweed cushions, bags, woven baskets and more. You will also be able to speak to the artists about their crafts and gain insights into the unique pieces you are purchasing. There will be a central sales desk so simply choose all the different items and take them to one place to have them wrapped and pay.
A history of Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
The award-winning Sir Harold Hillier Gardens were the brainchild of Sir Harold Hillier, whose family moved to Jermyn’s House (now used as the Gardens’ tea rooms and administrative building) in 1953. Born in 1905, Sir Harold came from a line of keen plantsmen. He was the son of Edwin Lawrence Hillier, a world authority on conifers, and grandson of another Edwin, who had established a successful florist and nursery business in Winchester in 1864.
Hillier plant breeding
Grandfather Edwin expanded the firm in the late 19th century, buying the land that would later become the first Hilliers Garden Centre almost 100 years later. He also developed an interest in plant breeding and produced the first Hillier plant, a primula, in 1875.
Sir Harold joined the family business, Hillier Nurseries, in 1921, taking over as head of the company in 1944, after his father’s death. He expanded the firm, making it the leading British stockist of northern temperate trees and shrubs.
Mail order plants
Like his grandfather, he was an astute businessman and predicted the rising demand for mail order plants that would be needed for the DIY gardeners buying the new properties being built after the Second World War. Alongside the success of its mail order catalogue, the company gained a reputation for garden design and, particularly, the supply of large, specimen trees.
Sir Harold introduced plants and trees from around the world to his expanding arboretum at Romsey, many of which can still be seen today in the Gardens. He also donated rare seeds and shrubs from his trips abroad to horticulture centres of excellence, including the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden at Wisley, Surrey. Today the Gardens hold 14 National Plant Collections.
After 25 years of hard work growing the arboretum and nursery at Romsey, Sir Harold handed them over to Hampshire County Council, which became the sole trustee in 1977. The Council’s remit was to run them as a charity that would further his aims of encouraging horticulture, conservation, education and recreation.
As well as the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, his legacy lives on in the 17 Hillier Garden Centres, located across the South of England, one of which, Braishfield, is located next to the Gardens.
Wessex Guild of Craftsmen exhibition details
The Gardens are open daily from 10am-5pm and the exhibition is open from 10am-4pm each day, except on Sunday, when it closes at 3pm. The address is: Jermyns Lane, Romsey SO51 0QA. For a discount voucher (buy one adult ticket and get a second half price) to visit the Gardens, valid until the end of March 2020, please see the Visit Winchester website.